Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

SPORTS >>Harding Academy down to 22 players

IN SHORT: The Wildcats will have a smaller team than usual during the 2006 football season.

By JASON KING
Leader sports writer

Harding Academy began its second week of summer football practice on Monday in the heat of the afternoon. While walking onto the practice field where the team was lined up for warm-up exercises with the mercury pushing 100, head coach Tommy Shoemaker took the opportunity to break the monotony with a little bit of humor.

“Brrrrrrr, it’s freezing out here, fellas,” Shoemaker shouted. “We’re going to have to break out our snowsuits and overcoats before it’s over with today.”

The small squad responded with shouts of “Yes sir” as they completed a round of jumping jacks and leg stretches before moving on to the tackling dummy.

The coaching staff set up the Wrap-Up dummy outside the corner of the field house. The entire team took a shot at the dummy a number of times, until it ended up in front of the Harris Gym on the other side of the practice field.

With a total of only 22 players, the 2006 Harding Academy Wildcats will rely on experience rather than depth. They will have significant leadership, however, with seven seniors, most of whom occupy skill positions.

“It’s a little bit of a low number for us,” Shoemaker said. “But I think we still have quite a few players who are really solid.
“Having a low count doesn’t concern me, as long as we have 17 or 18 guys who have game experience, that have been out there and done it before.”

One advantage that the smaller team has over the Wildcats teams of the past few years is size.

Harding has not had its share of massive players in previous years, but with 255 lb. senior linebacker James Kee and 245 lb. offensive lineman Jonathan Wal-ker, the Wildcats will have res-pectable mass on both sides of the football.

The Wildcats will have quality experience at the skill positions. They are especially set at wide receiver, which is a crucial slot in Shoemaker’s offense.

Seniors Chris Pack, Brad London and Brandon Ragsdale will make up the core of the receiving team for Harding Academy’s full-scale spread assault, along with starting quarterback and former leading receiver Luke Tribble under center this season.

Although many of the positions have already been ironed out, Shoemaker says that not everyone will be in place until after the Wildcats’ Aug. 22 scrimmage against Beebe at First Security Stadium.

“We kind of have an idea of where everyone is going to be, but we really like to wait until the scrimmage to see who is going to stand out,” Shoemaker said. “You always have a few guys who will step up and show you something that they didn’t show in practice.”

As for practicing in the heat of the day, Shoemaker says getting his players acclimated to the heat was not a very big task. Most of the team has already played through the biggest part of the summer in the 7-on-7 program.

“The guys are in really good shape,” Shoemaker said. “We have done great with the heat, and we feel pretty good about what we are doing as far as providing enough water when they need it. They’ve held up real well; I don’t think it has hurt us much practice-wise.

“Coach Moats did a great job with them in the weight room over the summer to help with their strength, so things are going really well for us right now.”